4 Key Prophecies from the Old Testament

The framework

Before delving more deeply into the book of Revelation, we need now to glance at some Old Testament prophecies concerning the end of the age and the coming kingdom of God.

The first part of this chapter will traverse what is familiar ground to most readers, and they may feel tempted to run through it very rapidly. This is reasonable, but I would ask them to resist the temptation to skip it altogether, because this is the beginning of an excursion that will lead into less familiar territory. To change the metaphor, this is the framework into which other facts of prophecy will be fitted.

In any case there will be points to ponder, and that section of the chapter beginning with the sub-heading Re-think may also provide food for thought.

A well-known passage from Ezekiel makes a good starting point: "And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him" (21:25-27). This message of doom was addressed to Zedekiah, the last king of Israel. He was soon deposed and the kingdom completely overthrown; the prophetic declaration "it shall be no more" was speedily fulfilled. But the words that follow — "... until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him" — will not be fulfilled until the Lord Jesus Christ returns and reigns.

Three periods

From the point of view of this prophecy there are therefore three periods:

1. The period of the Old Testament kingdom of God.

2. The "no-more" period.

3. The period of the restored, universal kingdom of God.

The "no-more" period is called by the Lord Jesus "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). It began when Zedekiah was deposed, and it will end when the Lord Jesus reigns.

Points to ponder

The kingdom of God will be no more until he comes. This means that the present State of Israel is not recognised by God. Its existence is certainly a sign that God's purpose is working out, and the circumstances of its establishment could be described as a near-miracle: but it is not a divine kingdom.

The present State of Israel is similar in this respect to the independent Jewish kingdom that was established in the period between the Testaments. Although there was a certain nobility about the exploits of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers (which gave way later to arrogance and wickedness), that ancient independent State of Israel was not recognised by God — "... it shall be no more until he come whose right it is". Indeed God repudiated that Jewish kingdom and it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Three overturnings?

Think now of the words: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it". Threefold emphasis, yes: but could it not also be a prediction of three overturnings? History records two to date: the first when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Zedekiah's kingdom; the second, when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. Can we expect a third overturning when the present State of Israel is destroyed? Remember — it is not recognised by God.

Nebuchadnezzar's Image

We must emphasize the point that the image fits into that long period of Gentile rule between the ancient Jewish kingdom of God and the future, universal kingdom of God. It began when the times of the Gentiles began, and it will finish when the restored kingdom is established.


It was hinted in chapter 1 that we may have got some of our prophetic sequences wrong. Let me now be more specific.

There is a familiar prophecy in Ezekiel 38 about a group of nations under the leadership of a power called Gog, invading Israel from the north. This is obviously a latter-day prophecy, and many are convinced that the time for its fulfilment is very near. Indeed, several things seem to point to this conclusion. After hundreds of years of exile, the nation of Israel is once again established in the land of Israel. To the north, poised for action, is a great power. This power is known to have designs on Israel, and it commands a number of satellite nations, just like Gog of Ezekiel 38.

However, we have already slipped up in our interpretation of Ezekiel 38 with regard to Tarshish, and we must be careful.

There are two serious difficulties:

1. If Gog of Ezekiel 38 represents Russia now, how are we to understand the statement that Gog invades for the purpose of taking a spoil of silver, gold, cattle and goods? Even if these desirable things are figurative of the wealth of Israel, the problem remains. Strategically Palestine is important, but in its present condition the wealth of Israel would not be a great attraction.

2. Although up to now Israel has kept her Arab foes at bay, and even increased her territory at their expense, she certainly cannot be described as dwelling safely. Yet this is how Ezekiel describes Israel immediately before the Gogian invasion. The first difficulty has escaped almost unnoticed, but strenuous attempts have been made to resolve the second. Some have been careful to point out that the word "safely" means "confidently". This does not help. The general picture is one of Israel being relaxed and unafraid because she is secure. She is not concerned with strengthening her defences, for she fears no invader. Thus Gog is represented as saying:

"I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land" (verses 11 and 12). Some have argued that "dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" refers to Israel's freedom from the ghettoes of Europe. Obviously those who have returned to the land do enjoy a freedom that was denied their fathers, but surely this is not the real burden of these words. If we link the words concerning unwalled villages with the description of a people dwelling confidently, it becomes evident that they describe a nation that sees no need to fortify itself.

Others have maintained that there was a period of confidence and prosperity in the years immediately following the Balfour Declaration, and before the Arabs started applying pressure. Even if this were granted, it would not fit the terms of the prophecy. According to Ezekiel 38, Israel dwells safely or confidently immediately before the invasion. In fact, the relaxed mood of Israel emboldens the agressor: an easy victory seems assured.

It looks as if these references to Israel's prosperity, safety and confidence are an embarrassment to many of our expositors. Hence their attempts to explain away what should be recognised as essential features of the prophecy.

The embarrassment is removed and the chapter makes sense if we stop trying to fit the prophecy into a place in the prophetic programme where it does not properly belong. Although some of the facts seem to match the present situation, others manifestly do not. We must therefore open, our minds to the possibility that the time is not yet ripe for the Gogian invasion.

A "kingdom" scene

The suggestion offered here is that the conditions described in Ezekiel 38 are kingdom conditions. The invasion takes place after the Lord Jesus has returned to Israel. The people are enjoying the blessings of his beneficent reign. They have good reason to feel supremely confident. It will be seen at once that this interpretation satisfies the terms of the prophecy with regard to Israel's prosperity and peace.1

But there are other things to commend it too. See how it accords with the prophetic context. Chapters 38 and 39 are a continuation of the prophecy commenced in chapter 37. The three chapters together describe a dramatic reversal of fortune. In chapter 37 the bones of Israel are scattered in heathen territory; in chapter 39 the bones of the heathen are scattered on the mountains of Israel. The action moves on therefore from chapter 37 to chapters 38 and 39. Now observe that it is stated in the concluding section of chapter 37 that God's servant David (a prophetic name for Christ?) is king over Israel. It is after this that Israel becomes confident with a godly confidence; it is when the king is enthroned that the nation becomes prosperous.

The stage is set. Gog thinks an evil thought, attempts to invade and is destroyed upon the mountains of Israel.

There is further evidence that this is a kingdom scene. Consider the following words from Ezekiel 34 (verses 23-28):

"And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them. And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid."

Do not miss the fact that this description of safety and prosperity in Israel, so similar to that of Ezekiel 38, is in the same section of the same book of Ezekiel. And see how these blessed conditions follow the statement that "David" will be a shepherd and a prince. Zechariah 2:4,5 may also have relevance:

"Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: for I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her."

Note the connection between the thoughts: 1. Jerusalem is inhabited, has an abundance of cattle and is not walled; and 2. the Lord is a wall of fire around her and the glory in the midst of her.

So the Gogian invasion of Ezekiel 38 takes place after the establishment of the kingdom. Does this mean that this invasion is the same as the Gogian invasion of Revelation 20? This is an interesting question to which we shall return later.2

The valley of dry bones

Now let us look at the prophecy concerning the valley of dry bones, and see how this fits into the picture. Most of the details of this symbolic prophecy are well known, and there is no need to guess at their meaning: it is spelt out for us in Ezekiel 37. It concerns the restoration of Israel in the last days — their restoration to their land and to favour with God.

It is not always appreciated that there are two major operations in the 'dry bones' prophecy, and not just one. First, the bones come together, "bone to his bone", and sinews and flesh come on them and skin covers them. Then the spirit or breath of God enters, and they live and stand on their feet, "an exceeding great army". The two major operations are therefore: 1. the re-creation of bodies from dry bones; 2. the breathing of life into these bodies. This work of re-creation parallels the creation of man as recorded in Genesis 2:7, when God first created man from the dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

Reverting to Ezekiel 37, there is a hiatus between the two main operations. After the first operation, involving bones, sinews, flesh and skin, the statement is made: "but there was no breath in them". Then Ezekiel, who has already prophesied to the dry bones and thus initiated the first impressive operation, is instructed to prophesy again: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." In response to Ezekiel's prophesying, the breath comes into these re-created people and they live.

The two operations have already been explained in more literal terms in Ezekiel 36. Observe that both accounts concern the restoration of Israel in the latter days; and that each of them states that the spirit of God conies into the restored people. Because there are two accounts of the same events in two consecutive chapters, each can help us to understand the other. Here is the account of Ezekiel 36 (verses 24-30):

"For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your un-cleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and I will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen." Notice the sequence. First the people of Israel are taken from among the heathen and brought to their own land; then they are cleansed from their filthiness and receive God's spirit or breath — it is the same word in Hebrew — after which they become willing and obedient, and are permitted to enjoy the fruit of the land.

The cleansing process is emphasised in chapter 36, but it is not described. It evidently implies the reformation and transformation of a people who are confronted by the stark reality of their own wretched condition:

"Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel" (verses 31,32).

For emphasis, the fact that prosperity will come to the people after God has cleansed them is repeated:

"Thus saith the Lord God: In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. And the desolate land shall be tilled, whereas it lay desolate in the sight of all that passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited" (verses 33-35). By comparing the two accounts in the two consecutive chapters, it becomes clear that the re-creation of bodies from bones corresponds to the return of the unbelieving people to their land. Then comes the washing or cleansing, not specifically referred to in chapter 37, after which, as both chapters testify, the breath of God gives the people life. It is after all this has happened that Israel really lives and enjoys God's favour. Their subsequent prosperity is described in Ezekiel 38, where, in the language of Isaiah, people and land are married and blessed.

This is the setting of the attempted invasion by the northern army of Ezekiel 38. Inevitably it fails. Israel suffers no harm, but the enemy is annihilated.

This means that what we have witnessed within recent years is the first of the two great restoration operations of Ezekiel 37. The people of Israel are now in their land, but they do not recognise their loathsome condition; they have not been purified and enlivened by the breath of God. To God they are still dead — dead in trespasses and sins.

So it does not look as if the Gogian host will come down on Israel yet. But other things could happen very soon.

A different prophecy concerning a different time

More often than not, the prophecy of Zechariah 14:1,2 and that of Ezekiel 38 are treated like two accounts of the same event. Although they are both latter-day prophecies, and although they are both concerned with invasions of Israel, there are important differences. Zechariah 14:1,2 describes a siege of Jerusalem with all the attendant suffering:

"Behold the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cutoff from the city."

However, there is not a single word concerning Israel's suffering in Ezekiel 38.

When the dreadful scene of the first two verses of Zechariah 14 takes place, there is no divinely appointed king in their midst. Of this we may be sure because the next verse speaks of the Lord's return and intervention:

"Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives ..."

Ezekiel 38, on the other hand, does not mention the Lord's intervention. He has already come, as the end of Ezekiel 37 reveals. If the two prophecies are kept separate there is no problem. Indeed, the problems are resolved. The full story may run something like this: Israel, proud after her spectacular victories, has to be humbled. In the language of Ezekiel 36, she has to be cleansed. Zechariah 14:1,2 describes how this happens. Jerusalem is be-seiged, and there is great suffering. In their extremity the Jews are compelled to cry to God for deliverance. God's response is to send the long-promised Messiah, whom the people come to see is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, whom their fathers crucified.

The intervention of the Messiah is the ultimate answer; but before that, the Lord goes forth to fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. This could mean that God uses Israel to punish other nations although she herself is still an unbelieving nation. Some spectacular victories have already been won by unbelieving Israel: there may be more punishment for hostile nations at the hands of Israel before she herself becomes so hard-pressed that only the intervention of the Messiah can save her. This could be the background of that moving occasion described in Zechariah 12:10:

"And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn."

When the Lord Jesus is recognised and accepted by the nation of Israel, or by a remnant of the nation, he becomes king. Thus the kingdom is established in Israel. Israel enjoys great prosperity; the people are secure and confident.

After this Gog of the land of Magog thinks an evil thought. The rest of the story we know . . .

Psalm 83

Some might feel tempted to equate the anti-Israel confederacy of Psalm 83 with that of Ezekiel 38. It may be remembered that the Psalm speaks of certain nations taking "crafty counsel" against Israel: "Come and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance" (verses 3,4).

There is, however, an important difference. The conspirators of Psalm 83 are children of Shem, and most of them are closely related to Israel; but the hostile forces of Ezekiel 38 are Japhethites, as a glance at Genesis 10:1-4 will reveal.

The question as to whether there is a connection between Psalm 83 and Zechariah 14 is another matter, which the reader might like to ponder.

References and Notes

1. It might interest readers to learn that Bro. John Thomas expressed this thought in Eureka, Vol. Ill, pages 404,405.

2. For further thoughts on Ezekiel 38, see Part 2, chapter 16.

See also Appendix I — The Gogian Invasion and the Beast, page 212.

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